Heat and dust from Eden to Armageddon

Roger Ford's Eden to Armageddon offers a disappointingly dry account of an horrific conflict.

The Arab revolt and Gallipoli aside, the First World War in the Middle East has been a neglected subject in the West. Ford's wide-ranging account of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire should have been a welcome attempt to redress the balance, but his often impenetrably detailed narrative reads like a dry regimental history, managing to obscure rather than illuminate events that helped to shape the modern Middle East.

The epic nature of the drama is hinted at in the title but, along with the voices of the soldiers on both sides, is frequently absent from this dusty account.Eden, reputedly Qurna in Iraq, is where in 1914 Anglo-Indian troops began their push into Mesopotamia to protect Persian oil vital to the British navy; Armageddon was the scene in Palestine of the final defeat of the Turks in 1918.

Ford even manages to underplay the horrors of one of the most humiliating defeats in British military history, the 1916 siege of Al Kut, southeast of Baghdad in modern Iraq. Both battle and book represent squandered opportunities.

Eden to Armageddon

Roger Ford